This post is the continuation of a weekly Constitution Revolution series that will cover the entire Constitution and many of the principles it was founded on. Click here for last week’s lesson.
It was 3 p.m. on a Thursday in 2003. I was working for a small town bank in Iowa. And although I didn’t know it, I was about to get an extraordinary lesson in the concept of separation of powers.
The manager of the branch I worked in called me into her office. After I sat down she said, “Chad, you’ve worked here for quite a while now and we need some help opening the bank in the morning. So we’ve decided to give you the combination to the safe.”
At that moment, my eyes lit up as I thought about the significant new role the bank must have in mind for me if they were ready to trust me with that kind of power. Clearly this would mean a pay raise; but who knows what else?! This could be the start of some big changes for me.
But before my imagination could get too far out of control, the bank manager brought me crashing back down to reality.
She said, “Chad… you’ll be getting half of the combination. A few people in the bank have the other half of the combination. Two people always have to be there before you can open the safe.”
In other words, the power to open up the safe had been separated out among a handful of people in the bank.
[sharequote align="center"]The power to open up the safe had been separated out among a handful of people.[/sharequote]
There is a great reason why the bank divided up the combination: no one person can be trusted with the power to open the safe on their own. Not the president of the bank. None of the vice presidents. Nobody. So a system was created to ensure that if one person does want to open the safe for the wrong reasons, there is always someone else there to stand in their way.
It makes a ton of sense.
Of course, the bank was only protecting our money. As I covered in a previous post, the government is supposed to be protecting our rights and our liberty.
Now stop and think for a moment: is there even one current politician who is so honest and pure that you would have no problem blindly trusting him with your most valuable possessions (your rights, your liberty, your way of life)?
That’s why our government needs to have a system similar to the one at the bank in order to keep our rights secure.
As I explained this weekend on TheBlaze Radio’s Chris Salcedo Show, what makes the separation of powers effective is the fact that there are three jobs that every government has to be able to perform or it cannot function:
Every government has to be able to make laws, enforce laws, and judge laws or it will fall apart. A great - and slightly cheesy - way to look at those three functions of government is like the combination to a safe that holds your rights and your liberty. No one person - and no one group of people - can be trusted with enough power to open up that safe on their own. Not the president. Not Congress. Nobody.
So each branch of government was given a different piece of the combination. That ensured that all three of them would have to work together to open the safe and make the government run. That’s why our Constitution provides for a Congress that makes the law, a president who executes those laws, and a Supreme Court that judges the law.
I realize that most Americans have at least a basic idea of what the separation of powers is. But we have to realize that it is more than just a quirk in how our government is structured; it plays a critical role in protecting our rights and our liberty.
In recent decades we have seen our federal government consistently taking actions that erode the separation of powers and yet most of us just shrug our shoulders as if it’s no big deal. But it’s a huge deal. Every time a branch of government exercises one of the functions that was delegated to another branch, it is grabbing another piece of that combination and making it easier for it to violate your rights and destroy your liberty.
Separation of powers might not be an exciting and sexy topic; but it is critical to preserving our freedom and we need to protect it.
I’ve talked previously about how a republic can be successful because it allows us to take steps to protect ourselves from the flaws in human nature. The separation of powers is a great example of how we can do that. We know that people are easily corrupted by power and that no one can be trusted with enough power to run the government on their own. Because of that, we want to make sure we separate that power out among the three different branches of government.
Chad Kent is an author and speaker with a unique style that makes the Constitution simple and fun. Listen to Chad every Saturday during The Chris Salcedo Show on TheBlaze Radio and visit his web site at www.ChadKentSpeaks.com.
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